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Visit to South Australia, May 1997

by Tom Worthington, President of the Australian Computer Society

22 May 1997, updated 4 June 1997


Prescript: Thredbo live from a Chair-lift 25 May 1997

In the tradition of Cambridge live from a Double Decker Bus, here are some photos transmitted from the chair lift at Thredbo in the Australia Alps. I am here for a Communications Seminar, so it seemed like the thing to do. :-)

Chair lift view 1 Chair lift view 2 Chair lift view 3 Chair lift view 4
I took the first photo in the ticket office, the next few in the chair on the way up the mountain and transmitted them on the way down. Got a shock when I entered the coffee shop at the top of the mountain: the place had been turned into an emergency field dressing station with bodies all over the floor being bandaged. Fortunately it was just the resort staff being tested for their first aid certificates.


The ACS is holding its 1997 Annual General Meeting in Adelaide. As President it is my job to chair the AGM. While there I plan to look at some IT. This web page provides a plan and then record of the trip. For previous examples see my Cambridge, Hobart or Perth reports.

Two questions for this trip were:

Please note that this report is based on a three day visit to South Australia. My time to investigate was therefore limited. Additions and corrections would be welcome.

28 May: Visit to Ngapartji multimedia centre

Ngapartji PC & Expresso1 Animation package on a Silicon Graphics workstation2 power 
and data sockets in the underside of the awning3
  1. Ngapartji PC & Expresso
  2. Animation package on a Silicon Graphics workstation
  3. Power and data sockets in the underside of the awning

Several people suggested I visit Ngapartji multimedia centre, but the descriptions as to what it was varied widely. From the outside it has the look of a bistro style cyber-cafe. There are about a dozen PC workstations available for rent by the half hour and a counter serving Expresso coffee.

The cyber-cafe doesn't serve much more than coffee (good) and biscuits (okay). Behind the shop-front are three "studios", with Silicon Graphics, Digital / Microsoft & Macintosh computers. These are for multimedia training. There is a theatre, which was showing multimedia art and upstairs there are offices.

The atmosphere of the place was an interesting mix of computer jeans and T-shirt types and people in business suits. The physical design is clever, with the function changing from cyber-cafe to class room to business as you get further from the front door. Also there are tables for side-walk cyber-surfing, with power and data sockets in the underside of the awning (not in use that day due to wet weather).

This was an unofficial visit to check the atmosphere (which was good) and I might go back later in the week to talk to people. Its well worth a visit if you are Adelaide and is as close to the office of the future as I have seen anywhere in the world.

29 May: Visit to MFP Technology Park

Foyer of MFP Innovations Center1 David Wadell at CelsiusTech2 Bridge to University of South Australia3 Shrikant Inamdar & Martin Hilton at Motorola4
  1. Foyer of MFP Innovations Center
  2. David Wadell at CelsiusTech
  3. Bridge to University of South Australia
  4. Shrikant Inamdar, GM & Martin Hilton, Software Resources Manager, Motorola Software Centre

What is an MFP?

The Multi Function Polis (MFP) was proposed in 1987 [1] as a joint Japanese-Australian project to build a high-technology city of the future. It was to concentrate on IT, education and environmental management. At the time it was proposed there appeared to be little more than a broad concept and since there have been numerous attempts to turn it into something which could be implemented [2].

Over the years since the MFP was proposed, it has changed from a Federal Government project, to a South Australian one and from a city of the future, to something more like a satellite town of Adelaide. In December 1996 an expanded MFP Development Corporation (MFPDC) was announced [3], incorporating the SA Urban Projects Authority, the Project Group of the SA Tourism Commission and the Strategic Planning Group of the former Department of Information Industries. The term "Multi-Function Polis" appears to have been dropped in favour of the acronym "MFP" and the scope of the MFPDC now appears to cover all of South Australia and general economic development.

The MFP concept assumes that people need to live close together to collaborate for work, that a "high technology" urban environment is desirable to live in and that it is productive. However, data networks allow people to collaborate on-line from different locations [4]. It could be said that the Internet, by moving on-line collaboration from a research topic to an everyday tool, has killed the MFP vision. Also people don't necessarily like to live in futuristic cities and old fashioned urban settlements may be more productive, as well as cheaper.

MFP Technology Park is not the MFP

The MFP Technology Park is not the MFP, but a traditional technology park adjacent to the University of South Australia. Unlike the Cambridge Technology Park, this one is not owned by the university, but by the State Government (through the MFP Development Corporation).

The park is 52 hectares and is about 20 minutes by taxi from the centre of the city. The layout and architecture is classic "technology park modern", with prefabricated steel frame buildings and wide expanses of grass and trees.

The park suffers from an excess of space. The taxi dropped me off at "Innovation House". This accommodates small companies, a conference centre and cafeteria. I walked into a spacious foyer, which was completely deserted.

Following directions given by telephone, I wandered down a wide deserted corridor, along which were signs indicating the company tenants. I could dimly see people in offices, behind the glass panels and closed doors along the corridor.

Past a deserted cafeteria I found the reception area with a few people. There was some difficulty directing me to the building I needed, as it appears people usually drive, not walk around the park. Following the directions I went out the door and along a path into the trees. At this point I could see no building at all. I had to call David Wadell from CelsiusTech by mobile phone to get directions (what I really needed was GPS receiver). Across a creek loomed another "technology park modern" prefabricated steel building.


David Wadell met me at the door to direct me to CelsiusTech. This is a Swedish defence company. The Australian arm, CelsiusTech Australia (yes the home page is in Swedish), works mostly on software for command control and command support systems for the Australian Defence Force. Current projects include the ANZAC Ship Project and the Army's AUSTACCS.

A hot topic at the moment is the use of commercial off the shelf hardware and software for military systems (called COTS in military-speak). An example is the use of PCs and internet technology I saw at Exercise Tandem Thrust 97.

CelsiusTech have a number of military operator's consoles, used for testing software. These have two portrait format colour CRTs, a keyboard, two track-balls and two plasma touch sensitive panels. I asked, "but could I run a web browser on this?" and the answer was "no" because of the specialised design of the system. However, in the next room they had a prototype console using two large format (about 14 inch) flat panel LCDs (in place of the CRTs), a colour touch sensitive LCD (in place of the plasma panels) and running from a COTS computer. This could run a web browser as well as the specialised military applications.

The limitation with the COTS console and the reason CelsiusTech have the prototype is not the technical performance of the system, but to work out what features would be useful and the customer would accept. The natural urge for technologists to supply a whole lot of new features has to be balanced against what the customer will accept, what the operator can cope with and the need to thoroughly test a "mission critical" system. Human computer interfaces are the topic for Interact'97, an international conference sponsored by the ACS, which I will be helping open in July.

As well as seeing the high-tech toys, I asked about the relationship between CelsiusTech and the researchers. CelsiusTech have close links to the Defence Science and Technology Organisation ( DSTO). However, there didn't appear to be as close a relationship with the Universities, particularly the University of South Australia, which is only a few hundred meters away.

School of Computer and Information Science, University of South Australia

David Wadell pointed me out the door of CelsiusTech to the University of South Australia, where I was due to give a talk on "A community of purpose", to the School of Computer and Information Science, arranged by Elena Trichina.

At the University I found myself at the wrong end of the Faculty of Information Technology building and had to go downstairs, along and up again to find the seminar room. This must make it difficult for IT researchers to communicate with each other in the same building, let alone for outsiders.

Having found the seminar I found Elena and an enthusiastic audience waiting. Unfortunately my presentation was stored on my web server and the seminar room was not equipped with a network connection (a surprising omission from a Computer Science Department seminar room) and my mobile phone link didn't work, so I had to do a lot of hand waving.

There wasn't any time for an in-depth discussion, but it appeared that there were few links with industry.

After a few sandwiches it was a quick dash back across to the technology park to the Motorola Software Centre.

Motorola Software Centre

Shrikant Inamdar, GM of the Motorola Software Centre, gave an overview of this impressive facility. Martin Hilton, Software Resources Manager then gave me a guided tour.

The building houses more than one hundred engineers working on communications related software, including that for the design of ICs. The atmosphere reminded me of ARM Ltd, which I visited in Cambridge last year, but on a larger scale. The people interaction at the Motorola Software Centre was what I had hoped to see happening at the Technology Park, but was confined to within the secure walls of Motorola's building.

I raised the issue of working with the Australian research community. One problem the Center has is to find research groups at South Australian Universities large enough to work with. Several other people I talked to during my visit in Adelaide commented that none of Adelaide's three Universities was large enough for viable IT research and that some form of consolidation or closer working was needed.

30 May: Back to the Technology Park, press and ACS AGM

Henry d'Assumpcao1 Anthony Keane2 Frank Hirst3
  1. Henry d'Assumpcao
  2. Anthony Keane
  3. Frank Hirst

Cooperative Research Centre for Sensor Signal and Information Processing

The Cooperative Research Centre for Sensor Signal and Information Processing (CSSIP) is located between the Technology Park and the University. Henry d'Assumpcao, Director of CSSIP is a former Chief Defence Scientist and as would be expected there are close links between CSSIP and the Defence Science and Technology Organisation.

Many of the people associated with CSSIP aren't in the building, but are located around Australia. Of the research organisations I visited, this one appeared to have the sort of information communication [5] shown to be an important factor in other centres [6]. I found people standing in the foyer of CSSIP drinking coffee and talking and there was no physical barrier between CSSIP and other building tennants.

Interview with Anthony Keane, The Advertiser

I had a brief interview with Anthony Keane, science & technology journalist, with the Advertiser (an Adelaide newspaper). Curiously the MFP and outsourcing, which I thought would be major topical issues in South Australia did not be of current interest.

ACS AGM & present honorary life membership award

After three days in Adelaide it was time for the official function which had prompted the visit. The Annual General Meeting of the ACS, which is a relatively formal event. The evening was enlivened by a talk on the Year 2000 problem, hosted by the ACS SA Branch (last time I gave the talk).

It was also my pleasure to present a certificate of honorary life membership award to Professor Hirst. This is the highest award by the ACS, only given for a distinguished contribution and to very few.

The following day I chaired a meeting of the ACS's Management Committee, at which we decided to prepare advice to members on outsourcing and then returned to Canberra.


The two questions for this trip were:

Lessons for the IT R&D; inquiry from the MFP

Discipline Research Strategy for IT

The ACS is assisting with funding and expertise for a Government supported study to formulate a research strategy for Information Technology in Australia (aka Discipline Research Strategy). It was announced on 4 Jul 1996, a progress report was issued 25 February 1997 and the report is due in June 1997. Details of the Open Forums held and Terms of Reference are available.

The ACS has contributed some funding, Dr. Bernard Robertson-Dunn for the Working Party and myself for the Steering Committee. The first steering committee meeting was held 18 October 1996 in Sydney.

The ACS was asked to assist, to keep the exercise focused on delivering useful R&D; for the benifit of the broad community, rather than for the benifit of just the researchers and academic community. In this we have not been entirely successful.

In Canberra: Cambridge or Thebes?, 12 April 1997, I contributed an informal comparison of Cambridge's success and how it might be replicated in Canberra.

Lessons for the IT R&D; inquiry from the MFP

I wanted to see how industry - academic collaboration happened at the MFP Technology Park. However, there didn't appear to be much collaboration happening. The physical design of the facility appears to work against informal contact, which the study of Cambridge found to be important. The proximity to the University of South Australia, which is emphasised as one of the benifits of the technology park, does not appear to be made use of.

There were several comments made to me that the distribution of IT research resources accross three Adelaide based Universities results in them being too thinly spread to be of much value to industry. In turn industry does not appeared to have understood the incentives and requirements of academia for collaboration.

While much good work is being done by individual organisations at and around the technology park, there appears to be little or no benifit from them being at the park. The MFP Technology Park does not provide a useful model for Australian IT R&D; coloboration.

Lessons for Federal Government Outsourcing from the South Australia Government's experience?

From my Canberra perspective, where Federal Government Outsourcing is very topical. When I last visited South Australia, I talked to EDS, who had just one the South Australian contract. There was surprisingly little interest in the issue in South Australia this time.


See also